Why Turn Onam Into Vaman Jayanti, Amit Shah? Twitter Wants to Know

Shah’s Onam greeting has been met with criticism for the Kerala chief minister himself. Here’s the reason why.

3 min read
Onam celebrations marred by communal agenda? (Photo Courtesy: Twitter/<a href="https://twitter.com/airnewsalerts)">All India Radio</a>)

Surely Amit Shah wasn’t unaware of the symbolic implications of his Onam post.

Or the fact that it implies an agenda to culturally change the narrative around a festival, that is otherwise considered quite secular.

Social media has been flooded with vitriolic posts, memes and criticism for Shah’s post.

For anybody who does not understand the reason why #PoMoneShahji was trending immediately after the BJP chief’s “greetings” came out, here’s the story behind the festival, and why Shah has massively offended Malayalis.

Onam is the celebration of Mahabali’s homecoming. (Photo Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons)
Onam is the celebration of Mahabali’s homecoming. (Photo Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons)

The Legend of Mahabali

Onam is the biggest festival of Kerala and its universal secular nature is emphasised more than anything else. Onam is also a nostalgic occasion for migrant Malayali communities.

The story of Onam involves the mythical ‘asura’ king, Mahabali, who ruled Kerala. As the story goes, Mahabali was a just ruler and under him, there was no discrimination towards the poor, and everyone was treated equally.

However, Vishnu still assumed the form of a Vamana (diminutive) brahmin to plot his downfall.

Vamana asked Mahabali for three footlongs of land. The generous king readily agreed.

Vamana then grew in size and covered the sky and the earth with his first two steps. He then asked Mahabali where to place his foot next.

The asura king offered his head and Vamana pushed him to the underworld. He was allowed a return to his land only once a year, and Onam is the celebration of the king’s homecoming.

Understandably, many Malayalees view Vamana as an usurper who cheated Mahabali of his rightful kingdom.

Vamana is considered a representative of migrating Aryans from north India, whereas the reign of Mahabali, the dark-skinned Asura king, is seen as a Dravidian paradise.

Hence, terming the day ‘Vaman Jayanti’ implies glorifying Vishnu, instead of the avarna king, is also indicative of a upper-caste, North Indian bias.

In the Aryan scheme of things, an ‘asura’ is dubbed as evil, while the ‘devas’ (gods) are deemed virtuous and pious.

Therefore, when Amit Shah posts a picture with Vamana’s foot on the head of Mahabali, the symbolism becomes obvious.

A meme showing Vishnu’s avatar placing his foot on Amit Shah’s head. (Photo Courtesy: <i>The News Minute</i>)
A meme showing Vishnu’s avatar placing his foot on Amit Shah’s head. (Photo Courtesy: The News Minute)

Shah Gets it Wrong, Completely

The reaction from Malayalis to Shah’s post wasn’t too surprising.

#PoMoneShahji (Go away Amit Shah) started trending on Twitter.

Also because Shah’s post came after Kesari (an RSS magazine) asked for the worship of Vaman instead of Mahabali, the pent-up anger found dissemination.

Any attempts to homogenise a regional festival will be met with severe bashing, as Shah might have guessed by now.

An Attempt to Saffronise Onam?

Social media was not alone in expressing their bitterness towards Shah and what seemed like a clear communal agenda.

Even Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan gave a piece of his mind:

“By eulogising Vamana and denigrating Mahabali in his Facebook post, BJP national president Amit Shah has humiliated Kerala and Malayalis’ national festival, Onam. The belief behind Onam is of equality and egalitarianism and it is a festival celebrated by all cutting across caste, creed, religion and other barriers.”

Onam as Vaman Jayanti, hence, was collectively viewed as an effort to communalise an otherwise all-inclusive, secular and cultural state festival.

M Pradeep Kumar, former secretary of the Kannur-based Kerala Folklore Akademi, in an interview to Quartz, elaborates on why Shah’s Onam narrative is problematic.

“Everyone in Kerala celebrates Onam. Because there are no religious rituals or deities associated with it. The symbolism of Mahabali also lies in the harvest. You bury seeds in the earth, akin to sending Mahabali into the Patal (netherworld) and reap the harvest every year, which is just Mahabali returning and bringing prosperity.”

Oh and Shah’s greeting is also interesting considering Prime Minister Modi ji’s Onam wishes only two years ago.

Modi made it quite clear that Onam is about celebrating the golden era under Mahabali. He also stressed how the festival is for “everyone”.

Did Shah not watch this before crafting his own Onam greeting? Either way, he has embarrassed himself and, of course, the party.

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